The US Presidential Elections: Clinton acquires aura of a winner

FOR A MOMENT, three decades dropped away. As searchlights made patterns in the icy night sky, and 10,000 people put aside two hours of waiting to exult, there was another young Democratic contender for the presidency talking of his vision of change, of how a nation divided could reunite to 'break the barriers of our common future'.

As yet, Bill Clinton is no John Kennedy. But briefly last night in Ann Arbor, on the same campus where candidate JFK launched the Peace Corps 32 years ago, he came close. Two hours earlier the last presidential debate had ended. Mr Clinton's performance had been adequate but no more. Now though it hardly matters. Unmistakably, almost tangibly, he has acquired the aura of a winner. If so, Ross Perot is the man to thank.

Just who won the Monday night contest is a matter of dispute. CNN gave it to Mr Perot, the other networks to Mr Clinton. What nobody disputes is that, despite his most forceful and coherent performance yet, George Bush failed to secure the breakthrough he desperately needed. And each time he seemed to be closing in on the Arkansas Governor, the starch-tongued Texan billionaire was there to thwart him.

Time and again, Mr Bush sought to portray his opponent as a man so committed to equivocation that he was unfit to govern. But on every occasion there was Mr Perot to deflect the fire back to the President. If the true goal of a quixotic campaign has been to sink an incumbent Mr Perot so plainly dislikes, Monday's confrontation at East Lansing was living proof of it.

Take Bill Clinton's draft record. Why was Mr Bush so fixated on events 23 years ago, when a country yearned for answers to its contemporary woes, Mr Perot asked. Most potently of all, before a record 90 million viewers, he publicly ripped open the festering wound of 'Iraqgate' more savagely than ever before.

Jim Lehrer, the moderator, could not hold them apart. Come clean, Mr Perot demanded, publish the instructions given to the ambassador, April Glaspie, before her fateful encounter with President Saddam Hussein a week before the invasion of Kuwait. There was no doubt, he insisted, that she had been faithfully carrying out instructions, permitting President Saddam a grab for the oilfields of northern Kuwait. 'Only he took the whole thing, and then we went mad. Let's get the facts out.'

'Absurd,' the President snarled, 'Iraqgate is just a bunch of people who were wrong on the war, trying to do a little revisionism.' Afterwards the spin-doctors drove home the same point. 'It is nonsense, no more, no less,' said Brent Scowcroft, the National Security adviser. Mary Matalin, the fieriest Bush spokesman of them all, was adamant. The President's performance had been 'stellar'.

Alas, not so. Mr Bush had fought effectively, and for once his heart genuinely seemed in the fight. But rarely did he dominate, and the best line belonged to Mr Clinton. Assailed again for seeking to have all things both ways, his retort was blistering: 'Americans are sick and tired of having either-or policies, of constantly being polarised - and look at George Bush. Once he was against voodoo economics; now he's its greatest practitioner.'

By now, though, such things hardly matter. A draw in the debate was all the Arkansas Governor required, and he got it. Yesterday it was back to business as usual - a triumphal progress through the Midwest. At noon he addressed a rally in Chicago, a last gesture to the state of Illinois where no Democrat has won since 1964, but where his lead now is around 20 per cent. Then it was on to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Mr Clinton is firmly in command. But it was that chilling campus at Ann Arbor which truly caught the mood.

In fact, avoiding complacency is the order of the hour, as Mr Clinton's communications director and close friend, George Stephanopoulos, is acutely aware. 'This race is going to tighten,' he warns. 'There's no way we'll win it by 15 per cent.' Maybe not, but to hear those hardy 10,000 on Monday night, there was no way of telling.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
Travel
Fair trade: the idea of honesty boxes relies on people paying their way
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
News
people
Sport
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
sport
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary